Games in the Sim City series teach you to avoid risks. They do this in a subtle manner throughout the games, bit by bit encouraging a particular play style. When Sim City parachutes you into the role of a civic planner, it somehow recreates an air of restriction, as if someone is standing over you with a clipboard demanding that you have adequate planning permission before commissioning that particular industrial district. The Sim City series has managed to reinforce right and wrong decisions gradually over time, with every poor building placement becoming a taint on your otherwise perfect city and every experiment into un-tested waters punishing you if you've tried to be too creative.
Sim City was one of those games that must have been somewhat of a eureka moment for many developers. In its design, Will Wright managed to take computer games down a path that had a lot in common with computer model simulations as opposed to reaction-based tests of skill or board game analogues. The likes of Sim City have almost certainly contributed to the creation of persistent worlds seen in the Grand Theft Auto series or any modern open world sandbox title in general.
My first introduction to the series was Sim City 2000. I had never seen anything like this city building game, partly because I was approximately 10 at the time with limited access to games but partly because excepting for its predecessor, there just wasn't that much on the market that bore a resemblance to it. Although being very eager to try this city building game out, when I did get a copy of it up and running, I was instantly disappointed for the simple reason that I hadn't got a clue what I was supposed to be doing.
For a youngster encountering a Sim City game for the first time, Sim City 2000 was not exactly intuitive. Up until this point, I was mostly used to things being obvious. You climb the ladders to get to the gorilla. You shoot at the things heading down the screen towards you. You run around and collect all the letters that spell "cabbage" before the butterfly will unlock the door to the next room. Sim City 2000 had no obvious way to do any of these things. Only Lemmings had previously baffled me this much.
Without a much needed tutorial, my first attempts at building a city resulted in a few police stations and fire stations being plonked down because these buttons at least produced buildings and the "city" usually met its end from an invading alien monster that I summoned out of frustration to stomp around what little progress I had made. Even the alien looked disappointed.
I was therefore very excited when I made a friend who knew how Sim City worked and promised to show me how to play it. However, this led to a further disappointment. Instead of turning the rolling isometric hills of virgin land into an urban paradise as I had hoped, my friend showed me how to follow a slightly more restrictive process in playing the game.
This is a brief breakdown of how you were "supposed" to play Sim City 2000.
1) Create a custom map that is completely flat.
2) Make a single hill in the corner and cover it with trees.
3) Make a single indentation to fill with water in another corner.
4) Turn off disasters.
5) Build blocks of designated land no more than six-wide with roads on either side.
6) Only use dense residential, industrial and commercial designations.
7) Add extra buildings when required.
8) Fill up map.
On the one hand it was exciting to see these patches of land spring up into houses, factories and shopping districts once they had been hooked up to power stations and adequately watered, but on the other hand it was disappointing to see that this much anticipated urban simulator was at this point little more than a highly controlled garden environment. You could have easily swapped the sprites out for plants and trees and it wouldn't have been much different.